There was an entire group of scholars who lived and exerted an influence during the lifetime of Rabbi Jehudah but who conducted independent academies and frequently even opposed Rabbi Jehudah. This group marked the transition from the Tanaim who lived after the completion of the Mishna to the Amoraim, who were the authors of the Gemara.
Rabbi Simeon ben Menasia belonged to this group of transition scholars. He was a member of a society of pious men who were called “The Holy Congregation” because of their habit of dividing the day into three parts one of which they devoted to learning, the second to prayer and the third to work. Other members of this society divided the year into two parts; the winter they devoted to study and the summer to labor in their trades. It was this group that Rabbi Jehudah had in mind when he declared that “man should gain the knowledge of an occupation as well as knowledge of the Torah.”1)קהלת רבה פּרשה ט׳ פיסקא ז׳.
Rabbi Simeon was a disciple of Rabbi Meir and he always quoted his master in legal matters.2)כתובות י״ד ב׳, בבא מציעא ק״ו ב׳. Some of his references to Rabbi Simeon ben Yochai indicate that he had studied with him also.3)אבות פרק ו׳ משנה ח׳. Rabbi Menasia was diligent in spreading the praise of Rabbi Jehudah despite the fact that he at times disagreed with his opinions.4)ביצה כ״ו א׳. He listed seven virtues which every pious man must possess and he immediately added that Rabbi Jehudah and his family combined all of these in their personalities.5)ירושלמי סנהדרין פרק י״א הלכה ג׳.
Rabbi Simon b. Menaisa’s sense of justice is expressed in his dictum concerning the proper conduct of a judge during trial. He declared that a judge must endeavor to conciliate the contending parties before he has heard their grievances or before he had made up his mind which of them had justice on his side. But after he had heard their arguments and had decided which of them was right and which was wrong he no longer had the right to attempt conciliation and had to pass sentence.6)סנהדרין ו׳ ב׳, תוספתא סנהדרין פרק א׳.
Concerning the Sabbath Rabbi Simeon b. Menasia said that the Biblical verse “Behold I have given you the Sabbath” indicates that the people have the right to regulate the Sabbath more than the Sabbath should regulate their lives. He therefore concluded that it was permissible to desecrate the Sabbath once to save a human life in order that the person might live to observe many Sabbaths in the future.7)יומא פ״ה ב׳.
A fantastic remark of Rabbi Simeon ben Menasia concerning the punishment of the original sin was interpreted by some as ridiculing those scholars who believed that God sent angels to cut off the feet of the snake after Adam ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Rabbi Simeon b. Menasia said: “It is rgerettable that we have lost an excellent servant in the snake. Had Eve not been led to sin the snake would not have been cursed and every Jew could keep two snakes in his house one of which he could sent to the East and the other to the West. The snake could then have brought him diamonds and other wealth from the ends of the earth and none could have harmed him. Snakes could also have been used for all kinds of labor instead of camels and asses; in addition snakes could have carried the fertilizer into the gardens.”8)סנהדרין נ״ט ב׳, אבות דר׳ נתן פרק א׳.
Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair was another contemporary of Rabbi Jehudah. According to the Talmud he was the son-in-law of Rabbi Simeon ben Yochai; but according to the Zohar, he was his father-in-law. In mental brilliance Rabbi Pinchas was the equal of Rabbi Simeon ben Yochai and it was said that whenever Rabbi Simeon asked a question during their studies Rabbi Pinchas immediately had twelve answers; when Rabbi Pinchas asked some question Rabbi Simeon at once answered it in twenty-four different ways.9)שבת ל״ג ב׳.
But Rabbi Pinchas gained his reputation not because of his scholastic attainments but because of his piety concerning which many wonderful stories were related. The Talmud therefore contains no legal opinions of Rabbi Pinchas but much was told of his painstaking care in observing the commandment of offering tithes to such an extent that even his ass would not eat grain which had not been tithed. Although he declared that the city of Ashkelon was not included in the boundaries of Palestine and should therefore have been considered free from the commandment of offering tithes, he nevertheless insisted that Jews who lived in that city must abide by this commandment.10)תוספתא אהלות פרק י״ח. His belief in the significance of this commandment was so great that he ascribed all punishment which was visited on people as being caused by avoiding the offering of tithes.
It is thus related that he once came to a city where the people complained of a plague of mice which were eating up the harvest. Rabbi Pinchas warned them against shirking the offering of tithes and when the inhabitants of that city began to pay closer attention to the fulfillment of this commandment they were rid of the mice. Another time some people came to him and complained that the city well did not yield enough water. Rabbi Pinchas said: “This is certainly a punishment for your disregarding the tithes.” The people vowed to change their ways and the well began to yield sufficient water for all their needs.11)ירושלמי דמאי פרק א׳ הלכה ג׳.
Rabbi Pinchas’ ass was said to be able to discern which grain had been tithed and which had not. When it was stolen, it refused to eat for three days. The thieves realized that it would starve to death and they released it, whereupon it returned to its master. Rabbi Pinchas was glad to get his animal back and he commanded that it be fed at once, but when some barley was offered to it the ass recognized that the barley had not been tithed and refused to eat. Rabbi Pinchas’ pupils then said to him: “Did you not teach us that in doubtful cases it is unnecessary to offer tithes from grain which is to be fed to animals?” and Rabbi Pinchas answered: “What can you do to this animal which insists on the strict observance of the law?”12)ירושלמי שקלים פרק ה׳ הלכה א׳.*)Similar stories concerning an ass which refused to eat of grain that had not been tithed have been related about the ass of R. Chanina ben Dosa.
Rabbi Pinchas listed a number of human virtues, each of which grows out of the preceding one and leads ever higher to the final stage of perfection. Observance leads to modesty, modesty leads to fear of God, fear of God leads to piety, piety leads to the holy spirit and the holy spirit leads to resurrection.13)עבודה זרה כ׳ ב׳, ירושלמי שקלים פרק ג׳ הלכה ג׳.
Another time Rabbi Pinchas complained about the low moral state of the Jewish people and he declared that since the destruction of the temple scholars are shamed and decent people go about with bowed heads; the desire to do good deeds is weakened and men of strong arms and arrogant tongues have gained the upper hand. Nevertheless no one wishes for anything, for all things have lost their worth and any man who is dissatisfied may only look to God.14)סוטה מ״ט א׳.
The Talmud relates that on one of his journeys to redeem captives Rabbi Pinchas came to a river named Ginai and he could not cross it because there was no bridge nor boat at hand. He then addressed the river: “Make way that I may cross!”, but the river answered: “You are about to do the will of the Creator and I always do His will, but you are not certain whether your journey will be successful while my path has been laid out by God. I therefore need not change my course.” Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair commanded: “If you will not make way for me I will decree that your sources be dried.” Upon hearing this threat the river was frightened and at once made a path for Rabbi Pinchas.
Then there came a man who carried a sack of Passover wheat on his back. Rabbi Pinchas commanded the river to let this man also pass because he was on his way to fulfill a commandment. This time the river parted its waters at once. Meanwhile there came a wanderer who joined the other two and Rabbi Pinchas again asked the river to let the wanderer pass so that it might not be said that a companion of his was discriminated against and the river parted its waters for the third time.15)חולין ז׳ א׳.
When the disciples of Rabbi Pinchas heard of this occurrence they asked their master whether they would ever be able to perform the same miracle and he replied: “If you will feel certain that you never harmed a Jew nor shamed any person you will be able to perform the same.”16)ירושלמי דמאי פרק א׳ הלכה ג׳.
It is further related that Rabbi Pinchas never ate at a stranger’s table and that after he grew of age he did not even eat at his father’s table. When Rabbi Jehudah once heard that he had arrived in the city he invited him to dine with him and Rabbi Pinchas accepted the invitation. Rabbi Jehudah was overjoyed at this and openly showed his gladness. Seeing Rabbi Jehudah’s joyful expression Rabbi Pinchas said: “You seem to think that I had vowed not to derive any benefit from Jews but the situation is entirely different. It is true that Jews are a holy people, but there are some who would gladly give you food but have none while others have enough but do not want to share it. I therefore decided never to take any food that was offered to me.”
When Rabbi Pinchas reached the door of Rabbi Jehudah’s house he saw there two white mules and he exclaimed: “The angel of death is in this house, how can I eat here?” (His reference to the mules as the angel of death is explained by the fact that the people of that time believed, that a blow of a white mule could never be healed.)
As Rabbi Jehudah heard the exclamation of Rabbi Pinchas, he came out of the house and said: “If you are not satisfied that I keep white mules I will sell them.”
“You must not do so,” Rabbi Pinchas replied, “for that would amount to putting a stone in the way of a blind man that he may stumble on it.”
“Then I will disclaim ownership of the animals so that anyone may take them, that you may come into my house,” Rabbi Jehudah continued.
“You must not do so either because of the loss that you will suffer,” Rabbi Pinchas responded.
“In that case I will have their hooves removed that they may harm no one,” Rabbi Jehudah urged.
“If you do so you will commit the sin of causing suffering to an animal,” Rabbi Pinchas objected.
“Then I will kill the mules that you may enter my house,” Rabbi said.
“You must not do so either,” Rabbi Pinchas said, “for it is against the law to damage objects of value.”
In the end Rabbi Pinchas did not enter the Nasi’s house and since that time the two became estranged and never met again.17)חולין ז׳ ב׳.
The Tana Rabbi Eleazar Hakapar who was also a contemporary of Rabbi Jehudah was famous for his saying that “envy, desire and ambition drive a man out of the world.” He also declared that “those that are born are destined to die, the dead are destined to rebirth, the reborn are to be judged; to know, to make known and to be aware that God is the Creator, the Discerner, the judge and the witness, the plaintiff and the highest authority at the trial. In His presence there is neither injustice nor forgetfulness, nor respect of persons nor taking of bribes. All is according to reckoning. Let not your nature persuade you that the grave will be a refuge, for against your will you were created and against your will you were born, against your will you live and against your will you must die and give account and reckoning before the King of Kings.”18)אבות פרק ד׳ משנה כ״א, כ״ב.
In his warning against pride Rabbi Eleazar Hakapar said: “You must not strive to be like the highest stair but rather like a doorstep upon which everyone treads, for when the house is being destroyed the doorstep remains in place to the very end.”19)אבות דר׳ נתן פרק כ״ו.
Like other contemporaries of Rabbi Jehudah whose names did not appear in the Mishna despite the fact that they were considered to be authorities in legal questions, Rabbi Eleazar Hakapar also figures in the Boraitha only.20)שבת קל״ה א׳, חולין פּ״ד ב׳. There are grounds to believe that Rabbi Eleazar’s father was also a learned man, for we find Rabbi Eleazar referred to as Rabbi Eleazar ben Rabbi and Rashi interprets this to indicate that his father was held to be a great man. Rabbi Eleazar Hakapar had a son named Eliezer. Historians are confused concerning the identity of this son; some say he was the well-known Bar Kapara while others maintain that these two are names of the same person. We thus find some statements in the Talmud attributed sometime to one and on other occasions to the other. This confusion of names is ascribed by some Talmudists to the editors of the Talmud.
We find a clear indication of the economic conditions of that time in Rabbi Eleazar Hakapar’s statement that “a man must constantly pray to God to preserve him from poverty.” Rabbi Eleazar was convinced that poverty was bound to affect every family and that if one was spared the anguish of poverty his sons or grandsons were sure to be affected by it.21)שבת קנ״א ב׳.
Because of the great development of Jewish religious life in Babylonia there were many scholars who feared that in time that country would become a serious competitor to Palestine similar to the case of Alexandria generations earlier. Rabbi Eleazar therefore declared that “all the synagogues and academies of Babylonia will in the end. be transported to Palestine.”22)מגלה כ״ט א׳. Like his contemporaries he also valued peace because “all the benedictions of the Shmone Esrei end with the blessing of peace.”23)ספרי נשא פּ׳ קמ״ד.
During a discussion concerning these virtues of the Jews which gained for them their redemption from Egypt, Rabbi Eleazar declared that this was due to the fact that “they avoided immorality and slander and did not change their language.”24)מכילתא פּרשת בא פּיסקא ד׳. This statement was a sharp protest against the conduct of many Jews of that time who reported one another to the authorities and who abandoned the Hebrew language in favor of Greek.
* * *
Bar Kapara was a contemporary of Rabbi Eleazar Hakapar. Despite the contention of some Talmudic critics that both Rabbi Eleazar and Bar Kapara are the same person we can not assume this point of view because we find in the Talmud a dispute between these two concerning the regulations of slaughtering fowl. Rabbi Eleazar declared that the regulations governing slaughter were introduced by the Rabbis while Bar Kapara maintained that they were a commandment of the Torah.25)חולין כ״ז ב׳. The true name of Bar Kapara has not been definitely established. “Yochasin” calls him Simeon, “Aruch” refers to him as Eleazar and the Midrash mentions his name as Aba.26)קהלת רבה פּרשה א׳ פּיסקא ד׳. Others explain this ambiguity as due to the fact that he was named after his father who died before the son was born.
Bar Kapara compiled a collection of laws, but these did not become as popular as the Mishnaioth of Rabbi Jehudah and many of them were lost in time. Of the remainder only a few were included in the Talmud as Boraithas and these were always introduced by the words “Bar Kapara taught.” But it must be borne in mind that Bar Kapara’s opinions were highly respected among the students of the academies and they were called the Mishna of Bar Kapara.27)בבא בתרא קנ״ד ב׳, ירושלמי הוריות פרק ג׳ הלכה ה׳.
Aside from his prominence in Halacha Bar Kapara was famous for his expositions and his clever interpretations and deductions from Biblical passages were repeated in the academies of Palestine and Babylonia. The following are some examples of his aphorisms and treatment of Biblical texts:
In Isaiah (9:6) we find an exceptional case where a final “mem” is used in the middle of a word. What could we conclude from this? God had decided to make king Hezekiah the Messiah and to transform the wars of Sanherib into the wars of Gog and Magog. The “Midath Hadin” (emanation of justice) thereupon said to Him: “Creator of the world! Why would you do so? King David sang your praise and You did not make him Messiah. You have already performed many miracles for Hezekiah, You saved him from Sanherib and You healed him of his sickness. Why should You give him this additional honor?” God’s will was thus frustrated. The earth then said to God: “I will sing your praise instead of Hezekiah but appoint him Your Messiah,” but this was not accepted. The angel in charge of the whole world (שר העולם) then proclaimed: “Creator of the world! Do as you see fit,” and a Bath Kol announced: “This is my secret! This is my secret!”28)סנהדרין צ״ד א׳.
In one of his lectures he hinted that man must always be ready to give account of his deeds in the following manner: “A woman whose husband went on frequent journeys always adorned herself in her best garments. Seeing this her neighbors said to her: ‘Your husband is not at home, why do you adorn yourself?’ and she replied: ‘My husband is a sailor and as soon as he will earn something he will return home. It is therefore possible that he will arrive at any moment and it is best that he should find me adorned to meet him.’”29)קהלת רבה פּרשה ט׳ פּיסקא ו׳.
The following are noteworthy among Bar Kapara’s maxims:
“Love peace and despise disputes. Beware of anger, for anger will lead you to sin.”30)דרך ארץ זוטא פרק ט׳.
“He who honors his neighbor because of his wealth will in the end part from him in shame, but he who shames his friend for the sake of the fulfillment of a commandment will in the end part from him in honor.”31)אבות דר׳ נתן פרק כ״ט.
“The activities of just men are of more importance than the creation of the earth and sky.”32)כתובות ה׳ א׳.
“An angry man possesses nothing except his anger.”33)קדושין מ״א א׳.
Many anecdotes were current in the academies of Palestine and Babylonia concerning the relations between Bar Kapara and the family of the Nasi Rabbi Jehudah. We have previously related how Bar Kapara persuaded Ben Elasha, the wealthy but dull son-in-law of Rabbi Jehudah, to propose a riddle, to the guests assembled at a feast, which criticised the conduct of Nasi. It was also related that every time that Rabbi Jehudah laughed some punishment was visited upon the world. But since Rabbi was frequently laughing at the witticisms of Bar Kapara he one day offered Bar Kapara forty measures of wheat if he would remain serious on that day. Bar Kapara thereupon brought a great basket smeared with tar and turning it upside down he asked Rabbi to fill it with grain. Another time Bar Kapara made a bet with Rabbi’s daughter that he would succeed in causing her father to sing and her mother to dance for him. The following day he attained his aim by a clever stratagem. Ben Elasha, who was present, resented the fact that his father-in-law did everything that Bar Kapara wanted him to do and together with his wife he left the house in displeasure.34)נדרים נ׳ ב׳.
Despite the fact that he was not ordained, Bar Kapara was the teacher of nearly all the members of the first generation of Amoraim. Of Bar Kapara’s private life we only know that he was poor and that he gained his livelihood from manual labor. There exist vague hints that he was occupied in some work on a small rocky island in the sea.
It is told that Bar Kapara once had a dream which he told to Rabbi Jehudah and asked him to interpret it. In his dream he saw his nose fall off his face. Rabbi Jehudah declared that it was a sign that God had been angry with him but that now the anger had passed. Another time he dreamed that his hands were cut off and Rabbi Jehudah explained it as a sign that he would no longer have to work with hands for his sustenance.35)ברכות נ״ז א׳.
A legend relates that Bar Kapara once saw a ship sink and only one of its passengers was saved from drowning. He pitied the man and took him into his house where he gave him food and some money. Years later some Jews were taken captive and Bar Kapara was sent to ransom them with the sum of 500 ducats. When Bar Kapara arrived at the palace he found the man whom he had saved and he discovered that this man was a high official of the government.
When the man saw Bar Kapara he ran to greet him and asked him what his mission was. Bar Kapara told him that he had come to ransom the captive Jews and he showed him the money that he had brought, but the man said to him: “You may keep this money instead of the five Shekolim which you gave me and because you gave me food and drink I will free your brothers without ransom.”36)קהלת רבד פּרשה י״א פּיסקא א׳.*)A similar story of a shipwrecked noble who was saved by a Tana is told concerning Rabbi Eleazar ben Shamua.
Since that time Bar Kapara’s situation improved and he could easily provide for his household as well as feed a number of students at his table.37)ברכות ל״ט א׳.